Dancing with Disaster

Dancing with Disaster: Environmental Histories, Narratives, and Ethics for Perilous Times

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Dancing with Disaster
    Book Description:

    The calamitous impacts of climate change that are beginning to be felt around the world today expose the inextricability of human and natural histories. Arguing for a more complex account of such calamities, Kate Rigby examines a variety of past disasters, from the Black Death of the Middle Ages to the mega-hurricanes of the twenty-first century, revealing the dynamic interaction of diverse human and nonhuman factors in their causation, unfolding, and aftermath.

    Focusing on the link between the ways disasters are framed by the stories told about them and how people tend to respond to them in practice, Rigby also shows how works of narrative fiction invite ethical reflection on human relations with one another, with our often unruly earthly environs, and with other species in the face of eco-catastrophe. In its investigation of an array of authors from the Romantic period to the present-including Heinrich von Kleist, Mary Shelley, Theodor Storm, Colin Thiele, and Alexis Wright-Dancing with Disasterdemonstrates the importance of the environmental humanities in the development of more creative, compassionate, ecologically oriented, and socially just responses to the perils and possibilities of the Anthropocene.

    Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3689-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-24)

    The idea that gave rise to this book was forged in the fires of a perilously warming planet. On January 18, 2003, after years of searing drought, with temperatures in the high thirties Celsius, humidity plummeting to 4 percent, and winds gusting up to eighty kilometers per hour, a hurricane of flame swept down upon Australia’s federal capital from the forested mountains beyond the city, burning to within a few kilometers of Parliament House, destroying over five hundred homes, and badly damaging many more. The extent, speed, and violence of this firestorm, a conflagration of such intensity that it created...

    (pp. 25-51)

    On the morning of November 1, 1755, the Portuguese capital, then one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities, was rent by a massive earthquake, followed in quick succession by two aftershocks. Large fissures appeared in its busy town center, roofs collapsed, and several grand buildings were reduced to rubble. Lisbon’s famous port, the point from which numerous voyages of exploration and colonization had set forth in previous centuries and still a bustling hub of international trade, was particularly badly affected: underlain by unconsolidated sediments, which amplify seismic waves, several stone quays subsided into the Tagus River and were swallowed...

    (pp. 52-83)

    One of the primary ways in which different kinds of disaster can be distinguished is in terms of their spatiotemporal coordinates. While all disasters are embedded in longer-term socioecological processes and patterns of vulnerability extending beyond the locality in which they occur, geophysical occurrences such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes occur abruptly over a matter of seconds, minutes, or hours, and their immediate impacts are confined to the region affected. The outbreak of a contagious disease with a high morbidity rate, by contrast, constitutes a slow-onset or “creeping” catastrophe, with the potential to afflict human (and in many cases some...

    (pp. 84-111)

    In the “Classical Walpurgis Night” scene of Act Two of the second part of his epic dramaFaust(1832), Goethe stages a debate between two of the earliest philosophers in the Western tradition regarding the formation of the earth. While Anaxagoris (c. 500–428 bce) celebrates the fiery volcanic forces that raised the mountains, his pre-Socratic predecessor Thales (c. 624–545 bce) professes a preference for the creative element of water: “In moisture all that lives originated” (act 2, scene 10, 7856).¹ When Mephistopheles fronts up with a half-formed test-tube baby, fruit of a failed alchemical experiment by Faust’s former...

    (pp. 112-144)

    In the previous chapter, I argue for an ecological materialist alternative to the Faustian project of discipline and drain. Turning to the matter of fire, however, demands a reconsideration of the mythic prototype that stands behind the figure of Faust: namely, Prometheus, the Titan who is said to have stolen fire from the gods to either empower or engender fire-wielding humans. Bent on mastery and denying dependence, the “modern Prometheus,” as Mary Shelley subtitledFrankenstein,is a defiantly self-made man who aspires to remake the conditions of human existence on his own terms. This is the Prometheanism of the industrial...

    (pp. 145-174)

    On February 3, 2011, a particularly powerful cyclone churned across the coast of northeastern Australia. Yasi, as this big blow was dubbed, measured category 5 on the Australian scale when it made landfall, and its force was felt along a seven-hundred-kilometer stretch of Queensland’s magnificent Pacific coastline. Luckily, the eye of the storm passed midway between the two urban centers in north Queensland, Townsville and Cairns, which were only moderately affected. However, five small coastal towns were devastated as the cyclone made its way deep inland, shredding native forests, ripping up rural properties, injuring animals, devastating wildlife habitat, and wiping...

    (pp. 175-178)

    In 1799, as the coal-fired Industrial Revolution in Britain was launching the planet into the era of the Anthropocene, a young Protestant theologian in Berlin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, wrote a series of talks on religion “to its cultured despisers” (among whom he counted his close friends among the early German Romantics).¹ Having considered as many of the world’s religions as he was able to research from written documents, including travelers’ reports on Aboriginal culture in the British penal colony at Botany Bay, Schleiermacher came to the conclusion that these diverse texts and traditions had arisen historically from a common core human...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 179-196)
    (pp. 197-214)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 215-226)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-228)